Stieg Larsson's Girlfriend Rages in Memoir

Swedish public opinion on Eva Gabrielsson might be shifting in legal battle.

February 18, 2011, 1:34 PM

Feb. 21, 2011— -- The plot keeps thickening in the real-life drama that has played out since the 2004 death of Stieg Larsson, one of the most popular authors of all time, as his family and girlfriend continue to fight it out for the legal rights to his literary legacy.

Eva Gabrielsson, the author's partner of 30 years, has published a memoir, "Millennium, Stieg and Me," that has evoked all the rage of his most memorable character: Lisbeth Salander.

Like the computer hacker Salander, who suffered sexual abuse at the hands of men who hate women, Gabrielsson, 57, has cried loudly that she, too, has been wronged.

Available now in French, Swedish and Norwegian, the book is infused with Biblical revenge and Gabrielsson wrote why: "For Stieg and me, we weren't only familiar with the New Testament and with Jesus who asks one to turn the other cheek; what nourished us was the Old Testament, harsh and violent."

Larsson's "Millennium" trilogy -- "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo," "The Girl Who Played With Fire" and "The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest" -- has sold more than 20 million copies in 41 countries. His blockbuster thrillers last year topped 1 million copies of e-book editions, according to publisher Alfred A. Knopf, joining only one other author, James Patterson.

But Larsson, who died of a heart attack at age 50 after a life of fast food and coffee-fueled work habits, never lived to see the success of his crime novels or the $40 million they have generated. Because he died without a will and Sweden does not recognize common-law marriage, the rights to his estate went to his father and brother, Erland and Joakim Larsson.

Gabrielsson told ABC News in an interview last year that the family supported her when the "Millenium" novels were first published.

"You were his wife, it is not our inheritance, it's yours," Gabrielsson said the family told her. "But something changed them. Something changed then, and I ended up in the position where all Swedish inhabitants are, with nothing."

Gabrielsson said she was "extremely furious that his legacy is being handled like a sack of potatoes, chopped up into chips that are sellable, he would have been furious and he would have gone to a great extent to exact revenge."

Joakim Larsson has said that Gabrielsson has "spread a distorted picture" of his brother.

"If a distorted picture of his childhood and his family relations goes unchallenged, his authorship cannot be correctly understood," his brother wrote in a prepared release. "No single person can have a monopoly on the picture of Stieg Larsson and his life."

The family said they ensured that Larsson's apartment and all his financial assets were given to Gabrielsson after his death, and they "have always wanted Eva to exercise influence over the management of Stieg's texts, but we want to do this jointly with her."

Gabrielsson Vague on Book No. 4

Gabrielsson has maintained that Larsson had an estranged relationship with his family. "They were never a part of our lives," she has said.

The Larsson family offered Gabrielsson a final settlement of an estimated $2.6 million through a newspaper interview, but she rejected the offer, saying she only wanted rights to administrate his literary property.

It is widely believed that Gabrielsson has Larsson's laptop and the beginnings of a fourth book in the "Millennium" series, but she has been vague about her intentions.

Until now, public sympathy in her native Sweden has largely been for Gabrielsson, but the vitriolic autobiography might change that, some say.

"The book is a vengeful memoir filled with Lisbeth Salander-like score-setting," said Kurdo Baksi, author of "

Stieg Larsson, My Friend."

He said reaction to the book has been largely negative and that the book does little to shed light on either Larsson or his works.

"Journalists described the book as a biography of Eva Gabrielsson, not about Stieg and 'Millennium,' Lisbeth Salander or Mikael Blomkvist," Baksi said.

Blomkvist is a character in the books.

"Eva Gabrielsson is not as respected now as before she published the book," Blomkvist said.

"I am very sorry for her, and I regret that the book does not give more information to the readers."

In one revenge-stoked scene in the memoir, Gabrielsson carried out a pagan ritual with a torch and a goat's head on a spike, reciting a poem to the Norse gods and cursing all those who wronged Larsson.

She even spoke to a crow that she was convinced was sent from the heavens as the reincarnation of her longtime lover.

At one point, Erland and Joakim Larsson suggested that Gabrielsson was "deranged and demented."

But she has remained steadfast in her opposition to the family.

"The 'Millennium' books were synonymous with misfortune for Eva, she didn't want to talk about them and didn't even read them when they came out," said Marie-Francoise Colombani, the French journalist who collaborated with Gabrielson on her book, which was dictated in Swedish, communicated in English, then written in French and later translated into Norwegian.

Seven Stories Press has acquired the North American rights.

But Barry Forshaw, author of the 2010 Larsson biography, "The Man Who Left Too Soon," said Gabrielsson has cleverly positioned herself in the debate.

"Unquestionably, this narrative does no harm for her to be seen this way for her campaign to raise money for the fight against his family," Forshaw said. "Actually, she is rather good at playing the media game rather well."

Respecting Larsson's Legacy

Now, the English-speaking world has largely taken her side in the dispute, Forshaw noted. "The general feeling is that she definitely was maligned and is the victim in this," she said.

"Although, there is a reaction against the feeling that she is Lisbeth Salander or a victim on that scale," he said. "But the sympathy is very much with her. I speak to Americans and Brits all the time, and generally speaking, they are hardened against the family.

"Millennium, Stieg and Me" chronicles how the couple met in 1972 at the age of 18, and their struggles together at Expo, the anti-fascist publication Larsson founded in 1995.

Larsson and his staff "moved around constantly to escape the Nazis who were harassing them," Gabrielsson wrote.

If they had married, she said, their addresses would have been made public.

She wrote in the book that her longtime lover's image has been exploited: "I don't want to see coffee mugs and other 'Millennium' merchandise; I want to see the 'real' Stieg respected."

Interest in the trilogy -- and its cash profits -- has continued with the upcoming U.S. version of the film,

"Girl With the Dragon Tattoo," by director David Fincher and starring Daniel Craig as Blomkvist and Rooney Mara as Salander.

Gabrielsson has said she is clearly not interested in the money, only Larsson's legacy, but, Forshaw noted, that legacy has been "well-handled" by the family.

"The three Swedish films were pretty good films," he said. "The new film with Daniel Craig; you can't say they are really screwing that up. There are top actors and directors and high-quality people in both. His legacy has been treated with respect."

Gabrielsson objected to the change of the original title of Larsson's first book, "Men Who Hate Women," but, Forshaw argued, that was "a master stroke, giving the book an identity."

Although she has denied speculation that she wrote his books, Gabrielsson said, "Stieg and I often wrote together."

"It was from our lives and our 32 years side by side that the books were formed," she wrote. "They're the fruit of Stieg's experience, but also of mine. Of our combats, our engagements, our travels, our passions, our fears. That's why I can't say exactly what, in 'Millennium,' came from Stieg, and what came from me."

Gabrielsson has said she could easily finish the fourth novel in the series. In the 200 pages Larsson wrote before he died, Salander, "little by little, frees herself from her ghosts and her enemies."

But that project will not be done until she has won undisputed rights to his works, she said.

Larsson's Sci-Fi Stories

And Larsson lovers may have more to chew on when his

science fiction stories, written when he was 17 and sold to the magazine Jules Verne, emerge, "like J.D. Salinger appearing again," Forshaw said. "Anything will be interesting."

But Gabrielsson and the Larssons are still at a stalemate in their dispute.

"Nobody is talking to anyone and there's been no progress," Forshaw said. "In the initial offer they made her, the brother said all she has to do is come and say, 'Please,' and I accept it. That word, 'Please,' was like a red flag to a bull. Why should she have to say, 'Please?' It's utterly ridiculous."

Still others blame Larsson himself, who poured his soul into passionate causes but never formalized their relationship.

John Henri Holmberg, a close friend of the writer's, recently revealed in his book, "Afterword," -- part of a boxed collection of Larsson's work -- that the antifascist writer spent a year teaching Eritrean women who were part of Marxist liberation group to fire grenades.

"They didn't want their addresses available to neo-Nazis and were leading a clandestine lifestyle, but there are ways around that," Forshaw said. "But, in his defense, he didn't know what a phenomenal success he would be.

"He was deeply committed to his causes, but he was a slightly unworldly figure," he said. "If you train Eritrean guerillas, come on, he was an overweight journalist. It seems like a joke."

Forshaw met Larsson's father and brother when they visited Britain as he was writing the biography. "He was a charming unworldly man and his brother was somebody who wanted his own identity back," he said. "He felt he was more than Stieg Larsson's brother."

Now, letters between the brothers have emerged that show they were in communication shortly before his death. "He wrote that the novels were coming along fine, so they hadn't had a complete break off with them," Forshaw said. "The waters are very muddied and it changes day to day.

"A lot of people are saying, 'Why can't the three of them just get together and thrash it out?" he said.

Larsson's longtime friend Baksi at one point offered to intervene and "sit down to lunch" with the trio.

"We must find a solution, but Eva doesn't like to listen and compromise," he told last year. "It's terrible."

But now, with her angry memoir, Gabrielsson might know exactly what she is doing.

"The father and the brother just get richer and richer -- every record has been broken and there will be more with the translation of this book," Forshaw said.

"Eva has a mixture of passion for justice and for herself and has inexorable patience. She is quite happy to sit it out. And world opinion is on her side."